A Utopian View of What Higher Education Could Look Like in the Future

Posted on November 16th, 2023 by Doris Viljoen

Several emerging trends are shaping the future of higher education in South Africa and the world in exciting ways. Education and training beyond secondary school level have traditionally been the domain of universities and colleges.  Only a fortunate few were beneficiaries of this privilege.

Addressing Higher Education Demands and Technological Shifts

In South Africa, we are not only experiencing increased demands from our young population for better access to higher education. We also must prepare for waves of people who need to be trained and re-trained because of technological disruption. This is to enable the population to reap benefits from the 4th industrial revolution.

Envisioning the Future: Institute Scenarios and AI Integration in Higher Education

The Institute for Futures Research at the Stellenbosch Business School is exploring plausible futures for higher education in South Africa. What follows is one of the scenarios that the institute developed. This has since become even more plausible with the normalisation of AI-integrated tools such as Chat GPT3

Global Collaboration in Education

Thandi is on her way to a study group meeting. The first time she had to attend such a meeting she did not know what to expect, but now that she is familiar with the process, she is excited. She is going to the boardroom of HJ Enterprises, a company not far from her house. The learning facilitator is in Singapore. The other eight participants are somewhere across the world, all sitting in boardrooms like that of HJ Enterprises. Holographic imaging turns the 10 boardrooms into exact replicas of one another and the participants have the experience of sitting with the facilitator and their fellow students around the boardroom table together, discussing the learned content and sharing insights.

Transforming Corporate Spaces into Global Learning Hubs

Companies such as HJ Enterprises took the opportunity offered to them by the new division of United Nations that is responsible for global higher education. The UN division provided funding to equip boardrooms across the globe with the technology to facilitate holographic streaming, the only requirement being that the companies make the boardroom available to study groups such as the one Thandi will be attending for a maximum of 15 hours a week. The rest of the time, companies may use their super-smart boardrooms to have seemingly face-to-face meetings with clients and business partners from across the globe.

The New Paradigm of Education and Work

Thandi’s father has difficulty grasping the concept of Thandi not going to university to do a three-year degree followed by subsequent years of honours and master’s degree studies: “In our time we had a clear ladder of learning. I decided on the degree I wanted to do, finished my studies and started working. I retired after serving my company for 35 years – that is what this beautiful watch was for, remember? But what is your generation doing? You did that basic work-readiness programme with weird subjects like systems thinking (what is that anyway?) and now you work in short stints for different companies, sometimes at the same time, and just do short courses when you ‘feel the need’. It doesn’t make sense. Are you ever going to get a real degree?”

Building a Personalised Degree: The Evolution of Accredited Short Courses

“Dad, I will be eligible for a real degree after this course. I select short courses that are accredited by the Global Council for Higher Education. So, whether the course is presented by a company or an industry body or a university, here or anywhere abroad, I stack up credits towards my degree. Think of it as Lego blocks rather than the fixed ladder of learning that you had in the past. I can now build my own degree-house with the blocks I prefer. They had to change the system, because there were so many people of all ages who needed training and retraining.

Universities couldn’t cope with the demand and there are only so many experts in certain subject fields. Sometimes they prefer to work in industry rather than academia, or they reside in another country. The Global Council for Higher Education was established to ensure that short courses offered across the globe are of the same standard, whether they are designed and presented by universities, companies or anyone else. Short courses are developed and accredited in quick response to technologies changing, existing practices being disrupted or new opportunities arising.”

Shifting from Lecturers to Industry Experts in Global Higher Education

“This course I am doing now is a good example. The learning facilitator is the CIO of a company in Singapore. We don’t use the word ‘lecturers’ anymore because facilitators do so much more nowadays than only lecture or share content. The company developed this course based on its global expertise in an emerging technology and regards the time that their CIO spends on it as a good-corporate-citizen contribution to their industry.”

Reimagining Alma Mater: A Glimpse into the Modernisation of Traditional Campuses

Her father, (looking even more upset than before): “So what is happening with my alma mater now? Is it still there at all?”

“Yes, dad, your favourite campus is still there. Maybe it is even better now than it was in the past. Its researchers are producing amazing innovations, publishing articles globally, and receiving prestigious awards. There are tools that we use that are based on something called AI that help us speed up many of our processes.

Revolutionising Higher Education Learning Structures

“There is no such thing as an academic year with semesters anymore. Scheduled contact time occurs in blocks throughout the year. The learning facilitators don’t lecture on the basic stuff – all of that is captured on video clips that students have access to on a shared portal from the minute they enrol for the course. Throughout their engagement with the learning material, students can do online spot tests and receive immediate feedback on their performance. When students feel they have mastered the basic knowledge, they book their place for a study block on campus that fits into their schedule of other priorities.”

“By the time students arrive on campus for their block, they have mastered the basic knowledge and are ready to engage with the learning facilitators and fellow participants to develop a deeper understanding and engage with participants in similar subject fields but from other disciplines to enable the development of real transdisciplinary applications. This touches on the other very important attribute of your (and my) favourite campus – socialising with fellow students, which opens opportunities up for creative collaborations, building networks and of course, for having fun!”

Bridging Boundaries in Higher Education

In envisioning a utopian future for higher education, the Institute for Futures Research at Stellenbosch Business School paints a vivid picture where learning transcends traditional boundaries. The scenario unfolds in a world where holographic technology, facilitated by global initiatives like the United Nations. This transformative process turns study groups into international collaborations. Thandi’s journey exemplifies a paradigm shift away from the conventional three-year degree model, as she assembles her own education.

This future embraces the fusion of corporate contributions, technological advancements, and collaborative learning. It suggests a harmonious coexistence between traditional campuses and the innovative educational landscape. This promises a higher education experience that is both dynamic and fulfilling and prepares one for the future world of work.

Doris Viljoen, Director: Institute for Futures Research, Stellenbosch Business School.

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Mastering Leadership Reflection: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

Posted on November 30th, 2023 by Jane Robertson

A few years ago, I returned from a two-week safari in Botswana, which was not a holiday, but an adventure. This turned out to be an opportunity for profound leadership reflection. We woke up before the crack of dawn, spent hours in a game vehicle spotting game and then finished the day, with our vehicle parked under a baobab tree, watching the sunset over a waterhole. On many of the days, we saw lion, leopard, hippo, elephant and giraffe, not to mention the many antelope species.

After an eventful day of game spotting, we knew when we arrived back at camp that it would be an industrious evening preparing dinner on the campfire and, once again, while there was still daylight, planning for the next day. Such active days made me appreciate the sunset break every evening, as this gave me the opportunity to reflect on the day, have a drink, and chat to my friends about our game sightings, all while watching the sunset… and what a sunset it was! Each day the golden ball descended beyond the earth and I watched as the rays reflected on the water for the last few minutes of the day.

Back at work, while sitting in my office, I couldn’t help but think of that evening ritual and how it relates back to the workplace and leaders. How often do leaders, at the end of the day, hold out a mirror and reflect on the day? Joseph Raelin, in 2002, wrote “

“Is it possible that the frenetic activity of the executive is a drug for the emptiness of our organisational souls, that constant action may merely serve as a substitute for thought?”

The Essence of Leadership Reflection in Today’s Dynamic Work Environment

Leadership reflection is much more than thinking about the day’s work during the commute home. It requires a lot more thought than that. What is reflection? What does looking in the mirror involve? It is the practice of every so often stepping back to contemplate the meaning of what has recently transpired in our lives and in that of others. It involves thinking about our thinking – resulting in an understanding of an experience that may have been overlooked in practice and is hence a form of deep learning. It is this deep learning that helps us understand ourselves.

It must be acknowledged that the act of leadership reflection is not easy and takes time to master. We are not accustomed to reflecting, as we spend so much time taking action. And when we do reflect, we do not always like what the mirror tells us, as the wicked queen in the tale of Snow White discovered in the Grimms’ fairy tale when the mirror spoke. But it does allow us to see the truth. Reflection is a way for leaders to gain a genuine understanding of themselves and their environment.

Reflection therefore gives leaders increased awareness in critical and complex situations, as understandings are reframed and action can be taken. In today’s world of work, we need leaders who are aware of the dynamics of situations and who allow for questioning to take place, making it possible for people to challenge without fear.

Tips for Applying Leadership Reflection Whilst Looking in the Mirror

1)  Choose a time of day that suits you:

Spend quality time when you are not interrupted. Build in reflection time into your daily planning. Take time to think, otherwise, you rush from one activity to the next without pause. One of my participants on a leadership course mentioned that he spends 10 minutes sitting in a boardroom with no computer or paper so that he can think about his thinking. Another mentioned that she walks around the park at the end of the day to reflect before she goes home.

2) Re-run in your mind the events that took place during the day:

This provides insight into your own strengths and development areas, thus enabling you to be more effective in the future. There are many sources for reflection such as everyday events, positive experiences, negative experiences, eventful incidents, unusual incidents, routine activities, important events and meaningful events.

3) Apply a model or framework:

Driscoll’s (2000) three questions of WHAT, SO WHAT and NOW WHAT.


What is the purpose of returning to this situation, what happened, what was my reaction?


How did I feel, what were the effects of my actions, what have I noticed about my practice?


What are the implications of this analysis – for me and others, what is the main learning from this experience and reflection?

4) Reflect through writing

Journal your thoughts. Writing using a waterfall technique – where you do not censor your thoughts – is a common and easy technique.

5) Reflect with others

Reflection does not have to be individual. Ask for feedback: Just as I chatted to my friends at the waterhole every evening, chat to your colleagues. Ask for feedback by engaging with trusted colleagues. Feedback is necessary as it positions different viewpoints for you to consider while you are reflecting.

6) Link your leadership reflection to action

Don’t just leave ideas in the air. Once you have finished thinking about your thinking link the thinking to actionable items.

If you can take these simple tips to heart, it will help you develop the skill of reflection that is necessary for the 21st-century leader. Even more, it will embed your deep learning, as learning can no longer only be something you do when enrolled at a university or on a course.

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